Learning is HARD, however there are steps that you can do to make this process easier, and hopefully more productive.

The aim of this post is to help you examine your direction, process and progress, and then orient yourself so that you spend more time engaging in meaningful learning. There are no hard and fast tricks to getting better. You only get better when you put in the mahi!

1. Identify your goals

The first thing that any artist should do is have an idea where they’re going. Think about what you want to achieve as an artist and use that as a landmark for which all your efforts will be focused towards.

This goal should be specific, tangible, and flexible. The more you learn, the more pathways open up, so you may want to reevaluate your direction in the future.

Without a defined goal, your efforts may be disorganised and disoriented, so your time and energy may be placed in pursuits that don’t advance your most important goal.

Tl;dr: Set a specific goal and center your learning curriculum around that objective.

2. Break down tasks

Break down your tasks into manageable chunks that are actionable; that way you can more easily measure your progress. Be specific: using principles and techniques like SMART and AGILE to guide your work breakdown structure.

Avoiding the crunch-burnout cycle is important to maximizing your learning potential and protecting your mental and academic well-being. Setting expectations fairly and re-evaluating those expectations periodically should be a top priority.

Self-improvement is a marathon, not a sprint and working too hard or unreasonably long hours is unsustainable. Working consistently and at a manageable pace is the key.

Tl;dr: Evaluate and break down tasks into manageable chunks, and constantly re-evaluate and refine those tasks based on your progress.


Part of your self-imposed curriculum should always be dedicated to strengthening comprehension of the fundamentals.

‘Learning’ and ‘Performing’ fundamentals are different actions and an important distinction should be made here. The telltale sign between ‘Learning’ and ‘Performing’ lies in how uncomfortable you are with the task.

‘Performing’ fundamentals strengthens what your already know and would be considered your regular creative time. ‘Learning’ fundamentals on the other hand challenges you to practise what you aren’t so good at. Both have their place in a good learning curriculum. However, ensure that you are learning and not only performing during these blocks of your study.

Tl;dr: Learning your fundamentals relies on you challenging what you don’t know so well, not just performing what you already know.

4. Be receptive to critique

Your number one tool to getting better, faster is to seek out and employ feedback and critique as early and often as you can.

It is important to genuinely and honestly receive feedback, no matter how difficult or challenging it is to hear. Remember that no critique is worthless, nor sacred.

Asking for feedback opens your artwork up to a fresh perspective, and new opinions that may highlight something you missed, or have become blind to due to personal preference or bias.

It’s up to you to examine and filter the feedback, and to sort what is important to you and what isn’t.

Be specific when asking for feedback, for example asking: “Are the colours and values correct?” instead of “Tell me what’s wrong”.

Tl;dr: Seek feedback early and often, examine it, then integrate it into your future/current artwork. Having the opinions and eyes of others is important to catch what you might not see.

5. Diversify via Participation

A great killer of motivation and progress is boredom. It is important to have a little spice in your life! An effective way to break up the monotony is to explore new ideas by networking and participating in events or competitions.

Some examples of what you can do are:

  • Participate in art challenges (Inktober, Character Design Challenge, etc.)
  • Reach out to local and international artists. Send them an email, tweet or friend request, and observe/participate in discussions with them.
  • Attend local art events, game-dev meets, art clubs, game jams, or conferences that are relevant to your interests/profession.

By participating in social events, you can build rapport with others, find encouragement, challenge and variety.

Tl;dr: Get out of your head and out of your room. Challenging yourself in this way can be a way to beat monotony, and force change or improvement.

6. Steal from your Senpai

If you have a ‘goal’ person you want to be like, steal from them.

Of course, I don’t mean ‘steal’ steal. What I do mean is to do art studies in their style. Learn their workflow, the way they use various tools, construction methods, layer structure, stroke control, and their mentality behind how they construct their artwork.

When you practice workflows of established and renowned artists, you eliminate a lot of teething problems that come with trying to figure things out on your own.

If you find you can’t yet perform as they do, identify why, learn the requisite skills, and try again later.

Points to keep in mind:

  • Always give credit where credit is due, passing off other peoples’ work as your own is theft. (Even a study you painted)
  • Don’t copy just one artist; try to find a good range and diversify your visual library.
  • Dig deeper than just copying the artwork. Examine brush economy, or the techniques involved in making the artwork. If your Senpai has art tutorials then look at how they build their work from start to finish, or how they use various tools to achieve a specific look.

Tl;dr: Learn from the masters, deconstruct the way they make art, and emulate them. Learn not just what they do, but try to discover what they don’t do, and why.


To conclude

This list is by no means comprehensive, and is only a few ways of approaching a self-learning curriculum. But hopefully should help direct your thinking and improve your progress!

At the end of the day it is mileage that truly determines how quickly you improve. Those who spend more time with purposeful pencils to paper learn more effectively than those who only think about improving.

Go forth and Level up!

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